Festivals Reviews TV & Film

AFF 2015: Hulu’s “Casual” takes comedy seriously

There’s nothing “Casual” about the new Hulu dramedy created and written by Zander Lehmann and executive produced and directed by Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air,” “Juno”). The TV series is currently airing its first season.

Newly divorced 39-year-old Valerie (Michaela Watkins, “Enlightened”) moves in with her 35-year-old man-child brother, Alex (Tommy Dewey, “The Mindy Project”) along with her 16-year-old daughter Laura (Tara Lynn Barr, “Aquarius”) after learning that her husband was cheating on her with a younger woman.

Review by Catherine Gutierrez 

From left to right: Michaela Watkins, Tara Lynn Bar, and Tommy Dewey star as family members in "Casual." / Hulu
From left to right: Michaela Watkins, Tara Lynn Barr, and Tommy Dewey star as family members in “Casual.” / Hulu

In the opening scene, we are introduced to the trio and learn right away that we are in for a snarky, witty and reimagining of the familial relationship we are not used to seeing on screen. This is not your ordinary mother-daughter and uncle relationship, and which becomes especially apparent after Alex finds his niece, Laura, having sex in his hot tub and only mentions it the next morning “casually.” Teenagers casually having sex out in the open and her mom and uncle know about it? What is going on here?!

That set the tone for the whole pilot episode and intrigued me to keep watching. Valerie is a therapist who listens to other people’s problems for a living, although she is completely lost herself. She is now entering the world of online dating courtesy of her brother who is the co-founder of Snooger, an online dating site in which he wrote the matching algorithm (an on-going process).

Alex is brilliantly portrayed by Dewey, with snark, douchey confidence, but also with a vulnerability as we slowly learn through the pilot and other episodes that he is not a stereotypical one-note bachelor or brother. The subtleness of Dewey’s reactions and facial expressions along with Reitman’s directing gives more meaning to Alex’s hidden layers that slowly peel away with each episode.

On the surface, the snarky and witty banter between Valerie and Alex can make “Casual” seem as if it’s not taking itself too seriously, but that’s the brilliance in the writing and directing from Lehmann and Reitman. The sophistication of Reitman’s directing in the first two episodes gives “Casual” a cinema-like feel that keeps you wanting to watch more. I was only going to watch the first two episodes for this review, but I got drawn into all four.

From left to right: Michaela Watkins, Tommy Dewey, and Tara Lynn Barr star in "Casual." / Hulu
From left to right: Michaela Watkins, Tommy Dewey, and Tara Lynn Barr star in “Casual.” / Hulu

A simple driving scene in which Valerie and Alex are headed to their Snooger dates, gives us so much insight to their brother-sister dynamic. We see Valerie nervously driving and we see Alex smiling looking at his sister so happy to be helping her in this endeavor. No dialogue, just a few looks. The magic of direction by Reitman.

Valerie’s character could easily have been portrayed as a one-note depressed cynic, but Watkins brings her to life with more intricacy and depth that take us inside her journey of decision making, which is often questionable, but funny and heartwarming. It’s as if, the roles are reversed in some ways. Laura is the old soul of the family-more mature and into her own self-than both Valerie and Alex, while they are still trying to find that love that wasn’t provided by their parents.

Laura, portrayed sternly by Barr, comes off as a bit cold at first, especially to her mother, but as we go through the episodes her youth shines through. That peeping energy will undeniably make for an interesting dynamic when Laura will need to turn to her mother and uncle to navigate the realm of coming-of-age.

Credit is due to Lehmann, who has taken these familiar characters and given them a new perspective in our modern world of online dating and forging new relationship definitions. What I loved most about this comedy and what hooked me in is the modernity of the writing. The show is very current with the new lingo and digital age of Ubering, dating and the hilarious Crossfit reference that you need to see in pilot episode! Viewers can relate to these characters in this seemingly crazy world, but a world that reflects our own reality more than we think. I highly recommend giving it a view.

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